leigh patterson

Musings: History of the Locket

leigh patterson
Musings: History of the Locket
 
 

As we developed the design for the JH Signature Locket we became more curious about the history of lockets — what they stored, what they meant, and how the role of a memento-driven talisman has evolved.

 Jacqueline Roque Picasso in a sculptural locket necklace, 1951.

Jacqueline Roque Picasso in a sculptural locket necklace, 1951.

 

A locket has historically signified:
Love / Honor /
A pledge of allegiance /
A symbol of mourning /
A commitment /
A window to the past

The function of the locket should always be considered. 

They have been used to carry:
Powder / Miniature portraits / Ashes /
Herbal remedies + poison (!) /
Perfume-soaked fabric 

 Queen Victoria’s locket, given to her on her first birthday.

Queen Victoria’s locket, given to her on her first birthday.

 “Found on the Danube” ... obsidian locket set in a silver frame

“Found on the Danube” ... obsidian locket set in a silver frame

 
 Egyptian Faience Amulet, Ca. 500 BC.

Egyptian Faience Amulet, Ca. 500 BC.

Lockets evolved from ancient amulets to mementos...growing increasingly prominent by the 19th Century. European designs date back to the 16th Century, where small pendants were worn to ward off evil spirits. 

 
 

One of the earliest known examples of a locket with a picture in it is Queen Elizabeth I’s ring (ca. 1575) containing a portrait of herself on one side and her mother Anne Boleyn on the other. 

The ring was made from a band of mother of pearl and gold which was set with diamonds and rubies. 

She is said to have never taken it off; it was removed only after she died. 

By the 17th Century, lockets and charms were also used to express a personal or a collective identity (i.e. a family crest) or a political allegiance. 

Following the execution of Charles I in 1649, loyal followers wore miniature portraits of the King set in rings and lockets. 


These lockets were often worn secretly and some contained treasured locks of his hair.

 Elizabeth I’s Ring

Elizabeth I’s Ring

 
 Gold locket with the hair of Marie Antoinette, from the British Museum archives

Gold locket with the hair of Marie Antoinette, from the British Museum archives

 

In the 18th Century the lock of hair became a principle and visible part of the jewelry, often curled or braided inside the locket for everyone to admire.  (Locks of hair from a passed loved one were almost always held inside a heart shaped locket to represent the love for that person.) 

Heart lockets were one of the most popular shapes of the 18th Century and often the lockets were transparent so the lock of hair could be more prominent. 

 

Mourning jewelry became hugely popular around the time of Prince Albert’s death in the 19th Century, and the significance of a locket became a way to commemorate life after death. The Victorians were a very sentimental society, so seeing their Queen so publicly wearing a sign of mourning and love for her husband started off a new “trend” for wearing the locket in a new way.

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Into the 20th Century, the role of the locket again evolved with the introduction of photography, making it easier to add an image to the interior. Amid the first World War, young soldiers were able to present their loved ones with a locket containing a photo of themselves; a reminder of their love while abroad. 

 
 Frida Kahlo wearing a locket; pictured with Diego Rivera, photo by Martin Munkacsi, 1930.

Frida Kahlo wearing a locket; pictured with Diego Rivera, photo by Martin Munkacsi, 1930.